With his 90-day suspension served, Bob Baffert was back on the scene at Santa Anita Park on Sunday morning.
“It’s good to be back. A privilege to train at such a beautiful track,” said the Hall of Fame trainer, who was perched in the grandstand with wife Jill, trainers Tim Yakteen and John Sadler and others. Multiple boxes of donuts were on hand, presented as “welcome back” gifts by well wishers.
“It was tough,” Baffert added of his time away. “I have never been apart from horses this long. I think we went on a ski trip 17 years ago. And I go to the September (yearling) sales for a few days. But nothing like this. I’ve always been afraid to be away too long.”
Baffert’s suspension, which began April 4, was handed down by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission as a result of the late Medina Spirit’s failed drug test at the 2021 Kentucky Derby. The colt was flagged for the regulated medication betamethasone, which is banned on race day in Kentucky. Medina Spirit was subsequently disqualified after months of legal wrangling.
Baffert’s lawyers tried to get a stay of his suspension, but it was ultimately denied by the Kentucky Court of Appeals. With regulatory suspensions reciprocated across all US jurisdictions, Baffert’s Southern California-based stable was dispersed. Yakteen and trainer Sean McCarthy took over most of the horses.
“The first 30 days were tough,” Baffert said. “Then I hit the 45-day mark, and I thought, God, I’m only halfway. But now it seems like it went fast. Jill got me on a health kick. I’m like a horse coming into a race, ready to go. Like Flightline after four months.”
During his suspension, Baffert said he did some traveling, but “mostly we just hung around.” He watched all three Triple Crown races on TV, including the Belmont Stakes while he was in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Otherwise, he said, he did not closely monitor the racing scene.
“I’d catch a few replays of some horses that had run, but that was pretty much it,” he said. “One thing is my phone was quiet. I didn’t talk with (assistant) Jimmy (Barnes). No ringing, nobody checking in. I got to sleep in.”
On Sunday at Santa Anita, several former Baffert runners worked and some unraced 2-year-olds went to the Santa Anita main track while wearing Baffert’s saddlecloths.
Among those to breeze was Grade 1 winner pinehurst, who drilled six furlongs in 1:13.4 for McCarthy. Pinehurst has not raced since being eased in the UAE Derby (G2) on March 26. He has worked nine times since mid-May.
It remains unclear whether Baffert will have a starter for the $1 million Haskell (G1) at Monmouth Park on July 23. He has won the race a record nine times. The last was with Authentic in 2020, when the Haskell served as a prep for the COVID-delayed Kentucky Derby.
Baffert said upon his return that he plans to take things slowly before gearing up for the summer.
“I need about a week to get my bearings,” he said. “I really don’t know at this point who’s in the barn, who isn’t. Who’s working, who isn’t. Who’s ready to run. All those things. So we’ll get that sorted out and go from there.”
Racing in Southern California is being held at Los Alamitos. Baffert expects to be back at full speed for the Del Mar meet that opens July 22.